Fact checked by Dr. Antoinette Martin, DVM
While most people find the taste of chocolate irresistible, chocolate consumption happens to be very dangerous for dogs. In severe cases, chocolate ingestion can even be fatal for your canine pet.
The risks associated with chocolate poisoning depend on a variety of factors. The type of chocolate, whether dark, milk or white chocolate, is an important factor, as is the quantity of chocolate consumed and the size and bodyweight of the dog.
In some cases, chocolate is mixed with or used to cover other ingredients that can also pose a serious health risk for your dog. This risk is why it is important to note every ingredient rather than just the chocolate if you suspect your dog has eaten something he should not have.
Which Types of Chocolate Are the Worst for Dogs?
The most dangerous type of chocolate for your pet is dark chocolate or products that contain pure cocoa powder. Chocolate with a high cocoa concentration means it has a higher amount of a toxic compound called theobromine. This compound is responsible for most of the clinical signs caused by chocolate ingestion in dogs. When consumed, theobromine can cause cardiac, neurological, and gastrointestinal side effects.
Because milk chocolate contains less theobromine, it is less dangerous for dogs. While it can still be harmful if your dog and should be treated as a serious issue, milk chocolate consumption is usually associated with less serious consequences.
The least dangerous type of chocolate is white chocolate. White chocolate is sugar-based, and it rarely contains any actual theobromine. White chocolate ingestion typically is of less concern, but it could still cause some illness.
Other Dangerous Ingredients within Some Types of Chocolate
Some chocolate will contain other dangerous ingredients, like caffeine. Caffeine is also toxic to dogs and can affect their cardiovascular systems and cause changes to the dog’s heart rate and rhythm. Certain chocolate-covered fruits (such as raisins) can also be quite dangerous when consumed.
Chocolate-covered raisins can be of real concern if a dog consumes them because grapes and raisins are also very toxic to dogs, and they can trigger acute kidney failure. If your dog has eaten any chocolate, you should consult a vet, but this is particularly important if the dog ate chocolate-covered raisins.
How Can We Help?
If you suspect that your dog has ingested chocolate, an online vet appointment with one of our Hello Ralphie veterinarians can help you determine the next course of action. A virtual vet can determine if the quantity of chocolate the dog ingested is dangerous and how much you should be concerned about it.
A Hello Ralphie online veterinarian will calculate the amount of chocolate consumed in relation to how much your dog weighs to see if the amount of chocolate ingested is likely to cause any of the above-mentioned side effects. If this calculation is determined to be dangerous, they can advise you on the next steps you need to take to help your dog.
What Should I Do If My Dog Eats Chocolate?
If one of our Hello Ralphie veterinarians suspects that the amount of chocolate your dog ate is dangerous or life-threatening, they will advise you about what to do next.
This professional medical advice may include giving your dog medication at home to induce vomiting. Having the dog vomit before the chocolate is digested can sometimes prevent some of the adverse effects of chocolate consumption. Induced vomiting will cause the chocolate to be expelled from the body before the theobromine is absorbed.
A Hello Ralphie virtual veterinarian may also recommend medications that can help bind any chocolate that has already entered the intestine. This medication prevents the chocolate from being absorbed into the bloodstream, where it can cause toxic effects. With these treatments, the compound binds to the chocolate, so it safely travels through the animal and passes in the feces.
Holiday Safety Tips
As you may suspect, veterinarians see the highest volume of chocolate ingestions around the holidays! Pet owners must remain careful around holidays, like Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Christmas, where people tend to eat a high volume of chocolate.
We recommend that you always keep any chocolate or products that contain cocoa in a safe location that your dog cannot reach. Put your sweets in cupboards with doors or high enough that your curious pets cannot reach them.
Many chocolates wrapped in foil or another packaging can also pose more risk if your dog eats the wrapping. Plastic and foil can become lodged in the intestine and cause a physical obstruction which can quickly turn into an emergency. Always supervise your dog when possible. If you have a toddler or children at home that like to eat chocolate, be sure to supervise them to make sure they are not throwing any chocolate on the floor or feeding any to your dog.
For more safety tips and advice, read through our Valentine’s Day Pet Safety Guide.
What Are Some Clinical Signs of Chocolate Toxicity?
The clinical signs your dog presents after consuming chocolate will depend on the type and amount consumed. Small quantities of chocolate in larger dogs can cause gastrointestinal signs, like vomiting and diarrhea. With higher amounts, dogs can become highly agitated and hyperactive.
You may notice fluctuations in your dog’s heart rate and abnormal heart rhythms. In severe cases, where your dog has eaten excessive amounts of chocolate, it may experience seizures.
The risk of chocolate toxicity increases with smaller dogs, so anyone who owns toy-sized and miniature breeds should be extra careful. Fatal chocolate toxicity is always possible, but if your dog is small, you need to take extra care to keep chocolate away from your pet.
If you have noted any of these clinical signs in your pet and you believe they may have consumed chocolate, we highly recommend you speak with a vet as soon as possible. Chocolate consumption is generally classified as an emergency.
Other Things to Keep in Mind
While most dog owners are aware of the dangers posed by chocolate ingestion, many other household items can be toxic to pets. For more information, read through our list of Lesser-Known Dog and Cat Toxins.
For more tips about what you can do to keep your furry friend safe, check out our list of helpful New Puppy Tips. Never forget, you can always talk to a vet online or set up an online vet appointment today if you have any questions about chocolate toxicity or any other issues related to your dog’s health!